As 1967 began the Lovin’ Spoonful were the USA’s toppermost of the poppermost with a rarely emulated run of 7 consecutive Top 10 hits. The previous year had begun with the informal, insouciant “Daydream”, continued with the torrid, ubiquitous “Summer in the City” & ended with “Nashville Cats”, a wonderfully loquacious laudation to the music & the mothers in Music City. By the end of 67, of the two dominant personalities in the quartet, one had left, the other was planning to & their commercial success had peaked. Despite this tumult the group released three singles that year the equal of the preceding hot hits. So, let’s have those then…
Pop Music was moving forward & Lovin’ Spoonful, particularly John Sebastian, were , at times, taking the wheel. The transition from Greenwich Village coffee houses (“after every number they’d pass the hat”) to nationwide popularity was instant as Sebastian’s eloquent & optimistic lyrics, matched to good-time “jug band music” proved to be irresistible. Inspired by the Beatles the Spoonful were soon becoming the inspiration, check “Good Day Sunshine” against “Daydream”. “Darlin’ Be Home Soon”, a brilliant, poignant “missing you” song, the first 45 of 1967, is a landmark of Pop’s & Sebastian’s growing maturity. A ballad from Coppola’s “You’re a Big Boy Now” movie, the line “And now a quarter of my life is almost past” quite a shock to the invulnerability of teenage Baby Boomers, the grandeur of brass & strings building to the closing “for the great relief of having you to talk to”, is a perfect thing.
So, what the flipping heck was Zal Yanovsky up to on “The Ed Sullivan Show”? Out in front his incongruous mugging is totally at odds with the feel of the song. Did he think he was selling the song to prime-time viewers? Was he stoned ? Well yeah, he was. “Darlin” did not reach the Top10 in the US & the Pop conveyor, which Spoonful were on, judged you on the success of their last single. New product was needed and quick & as the next single “Six O’ Clock” was being pressed Yanovsky & bassist Steve Boone were busted for possession of marijuana,. A Canadian, Zal faced problems on re-entering the country & he ratted out his supplier in return for leniency. Is this what they call a cleft stick ? The younger girl fans would just say no to drugs, a new hipper audience were no stool pigeons. Yanovsky, the zany personality of the group, the guitarist on “Nashville Cats”, left sharpish.
There are no clips of the band promoting “Six O’ Clock”. A new member, Jerry Yester, came in but they were
not yet ready for prime time. Here in the UK the Summer of 1967 marked the closure of the 24 hour pirate radio stations. For the past two years Lovin Spoonful had been an almost permanent part of their playlist & this new one sounded great too.” We had seen the group just once on “Ready Steady Go” in April 1966, four cool cats, Sebastian clutching the unusual autoharp to his chest. “Six O’Clock” did make the US Top 20 but a peak of #18 was their lowest yet. Meanwhile Zal was recording his solo LP “Alive & Well in Argentina”, here’s the single “As Long As You’re Here”.
“She’s Still A Mystery” was taken from the same LP “Everything Playing”. Here’s the glorious 3 minutes & 1 second of it. Man, I was enchanted by this song, bought the seven inches of pleasure, played it until my record player was sick of it but I wasn’t & never have been. The lazy intro to John’s verse about how girls are kicking into the rolling chorus still thrills. I was 14 in 1967, do your own maths & she’s still a mystery to me. It’s a move away from the more sanguine subject matter of the early hits & I thought it was the Lovin’ Spoonful’s masterpiece.
The Spoonful were back on the Sullivan show to promote “She’s Still…” It’s shorter, less balanced & nuanced, leaving out the play-out harmonies. They are in their Hippie threads, Sebastian in buckskin Steve Boone reluctant to ditch the turtle neck. It’s the Summer of Love & these Pop stars, with a new, more expansive, thoughtful sound were changing with the times. The record made #27 in the US charts, too sophisticated for a mass audience, a group too identified with Pop success for new fans. Sebastian left the band in early 1968. He had written many hit songs & had been worked far too hard to keep the band at the top. There would be no Crosby, Stills Nash & Sebastian & maybe there should have been. He made an impromptu appearance at Woodstock, a tie-dyed, tripped-out Hippie, his new songs more than capable but lacking the innocence & familiarity of his 4 year old hits, already nostalgia for the twenty-somethings .
Everybody’s has a “Best Of” by the band haven’t they ? Well they should have., both volumes! Fantastic collections of mid-1960’s Folk-Rock, songs that you know, those you may have forgotten & others you are just discovering. Even the post-Sebastian tracks, “the Lovin’ Spoonful featuring Joe Butler” are very pleasant. The group stand with the Beach Boys, the Association & the Mamas & the Papas as the best of this era’s Sunshine Pop. More significantly the Lovin’ Spoonful, along with the Byrds, were the best answer that young America had to the Beatles & the British invasion .